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July - 2010 - issue > CIO Profile
Technology is Fast Changing; be Open to Embrace the Change
Vimali Swamy
Friday, July 2, 2010
"Social networking and consumer Web applications and their foray into the enterprises is what one should look out for in the near future," says Ranga Jayaraman. As the CIO of Nvidia, a leader in visual computing technologies, he is quick to observe the technology trends that will drive the industry in upcoming years. The industry has been developing at a fast pace and technologies like cloud computing and enterprise versions of consumer Web applications are what will drive collaboration within enterprises tomorrow.

Exemplifying his thoughts, Jayaraman talks about the scope of a popular consumer application like YouTube. In a consumer’s everyday life, YouTube is one of the most common platforms to share experiences and perspectives with each other as a video log. But at an enterprise level, it holds much more potential. A lot of time and effort can be saved in the training of resources via YouTube like capabilities. A technology expert or a trainer can effectively create a video podcast and post it with careful packaging and tagging of the content on an internal video sharing site, where it is available and searchable by others in the company. The users can watch it, add comments about what they saw and learnt and what they did not, what needs elaboration and recommend it to other friends. "This will provide a means to augment organizational learning capture and propagation mechanisms such as documents and wikis," he says.

Similarly, cloud computing, even in its initial stages, is a very promising technology that could transform the way IT organizations function today. The idea that one does not require everything within the four walls of the company to provide effective service and support to customers is very attractive. And, companies like Salesforce.com have proven this with their sales, customer relationship, and partner relationship management tool suite.

"Salesforce.com is an excellent example of major enterprise applications in the cloud. Force.com, on which the Salesforce.com applications are built is a very good example of a powerful application development environment as a cloud offering," explains Jayaraman.

But where do these fit into the larger scheme of everyday operations? Jayaraman is quick to answer. If one looks at the scope of what most IT organizations spend their energy on, a very large fraction of their day would be consumed in routine tasks like server upkeep, networks, storage, training, and addressing problems of resources. Adoption of these new technologies will allow IT organizations to free themselves to develop new capabilities of great business value.

Cost Optimization, the Driving Factor

From a CIO perspective, Jayaraman is equally enthusiastic about one of the core challenges of any IT organization — cost optimization.
"CIOs typically do not receive any lasting kudos when it comes to managing and reducing costs, but it is not something they can afford to overlook," says Jayaraman. Like his peers in the industry, optimization of resources has been his constant focus as a CIO, and over the years he has observed several areas of opportunity for effectively managing it.

Any IT organization has a large number of contractual relationships for hardware and software products and services. It is imperative for a CIO to focus on what the real needs of the company are for the products and services versus the contractual obligations with the vendors. The entire vendor management cycle with a commitment to achieve a win-win outcome is quite essential for cost reduction, he insists.

The next area is operational optimization. Nvidia makes some of the world’s most complex chips. For example, its latest generation GPU has over 3 billion transistors and is able to perform a multitude of functions, not only in graphics but also in general large scale supercomputing. Designing, developing, and debugging these chips require the engineers to do millions of compute jobs per day. These jobs are run in large compute server farms with thousands of servers, crunching away non-stop, day in and day out, utilizing petabytes of storage and very high speed bandwidth networks within and across datacenters.

"In order to drive costs down we have focused heavily on how storage is utilized, identifying and eliminating duplicate content and migrating content that is not being used frequently to less expensive storage tiers according to importance. Also we have been looking at ways of partitioning these server farms and forming job queues in more intelligent ways so that we can increase the utilization of those servers more and more," explains Jayaraman.

It is with such focused and well thought out cost management strategies that Jayaraman helped Nvidia navigate through the tumultuous economic downturn. Now, with future growth on the horizon, he is enthusiastic to talk about the opportunities ahead. Nvidia’s business spans the entire spectrum of computing from mobile to supercomputing. Mobile computing is a major area of focus for the company. Today its Tegra chips are finding their way into extraordinary devices like smartphones, computing tablets, and smart books. One of the other core businesses of Nvidia is high-performance computing. It’s CUDA enabled GPUs enable high performance supercomputers to be built at affordable cost. Getting into the mobile and supercomputing arenas means the company is selling its products to enterprises, including the CIOs of those enterprises. So, Jayaraman ensures that IT is involved in the development and support of capabilities for NVIDIA to market and sell to those customers and support them after the sale.

Treading on a Challenging Path

The role of a CIO is a highly demanding job, especially at a dynamic company like NVIDIA, states Jayaraman. Keeping up with the current technology and judiciously deploying it to solve real business problems, while ensuring information security and managing effective delivery of services to customers is a challenge that excites him.

Any given product at Nvidia has people working across different geographies. Enabling the employees to work together and collaborate effectively, overcoming the geographic and cultural communication hurdles is another area of focus for him. Some of the technologies he is exploring for this challenge are pervasive video conferencing, people search using profiles rather than names, internal video podcast publishing, and enterprise social networking for work groups and common interest communities.

On the external business partners’s side, Jayaraman believes that lack of transparency is a continuing challenge within the industry. IT organizations rely, to a large extent, on the partnerships with organizations outside the company. A partner could be a provider of hardware, software or services. “I feel that service providers spend tremendous efforts in building partnership with customers, but they often do not provide sufficient visibility into their operations and cost. If the partners will create a more open environment it would enable a deeper understanding and the partnership will be more effective,” Jayaraman explains. This is a challenge every company faces and the industry will have to take a collective effort to overcome it.

Leadership and Vision

An industry veteran, Jayaraman has a vast experience spanning IBM, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, and currently Nvidia. Though he started as a researcher in IBM working on robotics and solid geometric modeling technologies, Jayaraman quickly felt that he was more interested in transforming business and connecting with people. He then led the storage business at IBM as the CIO, which was then sold to Hitachi to form Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. After a five year stint at Hitachi he joined Nvidia in the same capacity in 2008 and has been successfully driving the business since then.

Jayaraman strongly feels that IT organizations should develop a culture of ‘heroic professionalism.’ Due to the dynamic nature of IT, problems constantly arise in a business function and some employees become ‘professional heroes’ by making a diving catch and saving the day. People need to be able not only to solve the problem of the day but also to really look at how to do things so that they are not inundated and buried by the problems. This is a culture he has been instilling at Nvidia IT over the past 2 years.

A people’s person, he believes that one cannot be a leader if driven by selfish objectives and goals. A true leader is one whose goals are beyond self and has a vision for the organization he works for. His mantra is 'love all and serve all'. Jayaraman is a strong believer in developing a healthy team, building a career path for his group, and giving everyone a chance to prove their mettle. As for him, he says, "I don’t have a career to mind but have a job to do. I give my all to the job and the career is the side effect of a job well done."

A word of advice from him to startup company leaders — "Work on problems that matter and validate them with the customers in the early stage so that what you create indeed becomes valuable. Engage with potential customer prospects quite early, seek out the CIOs who see the potential for an early engagement and strike a win-win value proposition."

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